Oaxaca hosted its first-ever Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales on April 24-25, 2017. The festivities included more than 50 traditional home cooks from Oaxaca's eight regions, plus two days of conferences and other activities. Doña Martina Sánchez is the person shown on the poster; she's making a tlayuda, a very large, thin corn tortilla that will subsequently be topped with any number of ingredients.
Indescribably delicious empanandas, prepared by doña Martina Sánchez at the Mexico City press conference prior to the Encuentro. Photos copyright Mexico Cooks! unless otherwise noted.
From 1:00PM until 9:00PM, the cocineras tradicionales (traditional cooks) sold plates and platters and bowls of both well- and little-known dishes to the hordes and throngs of avid attendees. More than 10,000 people showed up over the course of two days. The Encuentro was a tremendous success in every respect. Remember that admission to the Encuentro--including entry to its many conferences---is FREE.
Señora Celia Florián, traditional cook, restaurant owner (Las 15 Letras, Calle Abasolo 300, Centro Histórico, Oaxaca), and one of the principal organizers of the Primer Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca. My dear friend Celia is a truly great woman, in every sense of the word.
Oaxaca thrilled Mexico Cooks! with an invitation to an April 23-26 hosted press trip to Oaxaca, for the sole purpose of eating, drinking, photographing, and writing about the first Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales in that city. The event took place during the celebration of the city's 485th anniversary of founding, and what a celebration it was! The Encuentro, primarily organized by Señora Celia Florián and hosted by Oaxaca's city government and other organizations, the event included more than 50 traditional cooks who set up their cooking fires on the Plaza de la Danza, just in front of Oaxaca's beautiful Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad.
La Danza de los Rubios of Santiago Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca, pounded the stage to open the Encuentro with its fiercely colorful, tremendously flashy rendition of this more than 100-year-old dance. Normally danced during Carnaval, the bailable (dance) made the first day of the Encuentro into a wonderful festival. Photo courtesy Daniel Cui, IGERS Mexico.
Just one of a huge number of whole pigs, spit-roasted over firewood at the Encuentro. This one was almost ready to be served, together with puré de papa (mashed potato), all in the style of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in far-southern Oaxaca.
My plate, filled with tender, juicy, wood-roasted, mouth-watering carne de cerdo (pork meat), Isthmus-style puré de papa (mashed potato), and delicious sauce. Rosario Cruz Cobos, the cocinera tradicional istmeña who served the crowd, wears the typical clothing of the Tehuana: a woman from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec: hand embroidered velveteen blouse coupled with a colorful skirt and typically white lacy underskirt, gold filigree jewelry, and a ribbon or flower wreath around the head. Photo courtesy Gaby Vargas.
From left to right: Rufina Mendoza Ruíz, Abigail Mendoza Ruíz, Mexico Cooks!, and Marcelina Mendoza Ruíz. The Mendoza Ruíz sisters are arguably the best-known cocineras tradicionales in Oaxaca--and probably in all of Mexico. Indigenous Zapotecas from Teotitlán del Valle, they operate Tlamanalli, their family restaurant. Abigail Mendoza has literally traveled the world educating people about Mexican and Oaxacan food. It's a privilege to be a friend of the loving Mendoza family.
Tichindas en caldo de frijol: sweet-water mussels hand-gathered from their muddy flats along the coast of Oaxaca and prepared in a slightly spicy, slightly savory, slightly sweet sauce of smoothly-ground beans that knocked my socks off. The mussels themselves, shells and all, were just over an inch long. From now on, when I think para chuparse los dedos (finger-lickin' good), this will be the dish in my mind. I ate this bowl of mussels on the last day of the Encuentro; on the first day, a friend gave me the last tiny bit of a tamal with one of these mussels, still in the shell, wrapped in rich masa (corn dough). The next day, I went looking for those tamales, but they were completely sold out. This bowl of tichinda soup was my consolation prize, but wow, a prize indeed.
Three members of a fascinating and tender round table conference; one of the topics was "food memories from your childhood". The Tehuanas (women from the Istmus of Tehuantepec) are (left to right): Sra. Aurora de Toledo, owner of Restaurante Zandunga; Sra. Deyaniro Aquino Pineda, owner of Restaurante La Teca; and Sra. Ofelia Toledo Pineda, owner of Restaurante Yu Ne Nisa. All three traditional restaurants are located in the city of Oaxaca.
Tejate, one of the iconic drinks of Oaxaca, is made from corn masa, Oaxacan chocolate, canela (Mexican cinnamon), pixtle (the finely ground large brown seed of the mamey fruit), and flor de cacao (also known as rosita). After those ingredients are beaten by hand (see video), water and ice are added.
Mamey fruit for sale at a market in Oaxaca. The mamey tastes very much like a baked sweet potato. The cut fruits--so beautiful!--have had their single large seeds removed to be sold separately.
At the top of the photo are long sticks of Mexican cinnamon. In the woven tray is flor de cacao, or rosita. At the bottom are pixtles, the large brown mamey seeds, ready to be ground to a fine powder for tejate.
In this video, the vendor has added cold water and ice to the tejate mixture--it's almost ready to serve. You can see that the surface of the tejate is foamy and thick, while the liquid she mixes from on high is thin, as it is supposed to be. Tejate is a delicious and extremely refreshing cold chocolate drink. When you're in Oaxaca, be sure to try it!
The finished product: freshly made, chilled tejate, ready to be served using the hand-painted jícara floating in it. We thoroughly enjoyed a cooling, large jícara-full (the jícara is the round fruit of southern Mexico's crescentia crujete tree) at Oaxaca's Mercado Benito Juárez.
For two full days and evenings, thousands of hungry people lined up at this event for Oaxacan regional food specialties that are rarely seen outside the comunidades (small indigenous towns) where they are made. Oaxaca residents, Mexicans from states near and far, and foreign tourists devoured anything and everything that the cocineras tradicionales prepared; everything I tasted was a thrill. The Encuentro was enlivened by constant live music and other entertainment, the city was in full fiesta mode for its anniversary, and everyone was excited and happy to be present.
YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE!! Announcing the dates for the second Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca: April 25-28, 2018, and once again in the Plaza de la Danza, in front of the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Soledad in the city of Oaxaca. Book your trip as soon as possible! The event is a do-not-miss. Not only has the organizing committee added an additional food and conference-filled day to the festivities, but more than 30 additional cocineras tradicionales will be present--85 total!--selling 400 DIFFERENT traditional platillos (dishes). Every centavo in sales earned by the cocineras belongs to them--eat a lot, so these marvelous home cooks are able to take your pesos home to their pueblos and families!
Eager comensales (diners) pass along one of three sides of the Plaza de la Danza, where the cocineras tradicionales served food. No admission fee at the Encuentro means that one can purchase more of the very inexpensive dishes that the traditional cooks prepare and serve. Photo courtesy Marichuy Garduño.
Part of the invited Mexico City press group took a culinary tour of Oaxaca's Mercado Benito Juárez. I'd been there many times before, and nevertheless learned a tremendous amount from our guide. We're sitting for our portrait at Aguas Frescas Casilda, an institution in Oaxaca.
Over the course of many years, Mexico Cooks! has been invited to countless culinary festivals in Mexico. The Primer Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca will always stand out in my mind as extraordinary: as the first in Oaxaca and as being entirely exemplary of Oaxaca's marvelous hospitality. Profound thanks to Celia Florián, to the Oaxaca city government, to the Oaxaca tourism department, to CANIRAC Oaxaca (Cámara Nacional de la Industria de Restaurantes y Alimentos Condimentados--Mexico's national restaurant association), to the cocineras tradicionales, and to all who made this marvelous event possible. Trabajar en equipo siempre es mejor (it's always better to work as a team) has never been truer. Three cheers and huge gratitude to all.
The truth is, we ate more in three days than is really conscionable. Between the traditional food at the Encuentro and our meals at Oaxaca's legendary restaurants, we all but waddled our way through the city. Do come this year--it's worth every extra pound of weight that you'll take home!
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